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U.K. Goes Full Nanny State With Proposed Nationwide Plastic Straw Ban

Want to cut back on plastic marine waste? Focus on waste management systems, not drinking straws.

Salpics32/Dreamstime.comSalpics32/Dreamstime.com

The United Kingdom has been on a nanny-state bender lately. Already this year, British authorities have cracked down on Nazi dog videos, pocket knives, and sectarian songs. And now the current Conservative government has announced plans to ban plastic straws and stirrers.

"Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world," said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a statement released today. May vowed a national plan of action to rid the country of "avoidable plastic waste" by the year 2042, promising that Environment Minister Michael Gove would develop a plan this year to ban straws.

Banning straws is something of a pet issue for Gove, who this year pledged to cut down on his own plastic use for Lent. He even supported Brexit on the grounds that it would make a prohibition of plastic straws easier to achieve.

Unsurprisingly for a man of such passions, Gove has employed near-apocalyptic rhetoric to sell a ban, describing straw usage as a "scourge on our seas" and "a symbol of society's damaging addiction to single-use plastics and our throwaway culture."

The straw ban isn't the only anti-plastic measure that May wants to take. She also hopes to prohibit plastic microbeads and enact mandatory charges for plastic bags.

But for all the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric, plastic straw usage's actual threat to marine health is difficult to pin down.

The U.K.-based Marine Conservation Society claims that Brits use 8.5 billion single-use plastic straws a year. That pencils out to roughly one out of every three Britons using one straw per day. Credible estimates on this side of the pond suggest about half of the U.S. uses one straw per day. (I reached out to the Marine Conservation Society to ask how they arrived at their figure but have yet to hear back.)

How many of these 8.5 billion straws actually get into the ocean is an open question.

The Marine Conservation Society is quick to point out that disposable cutlery, trays, and straws are among the top 10 most commonly found categories of items during the group's yearly coastal clean-up. Indeed, they are the tenth most commonly found item category, making up about 2 percent of all beach refuse collected. Given that straws are a subset of this category, they are less than 2 percent.

In any event, if the goal is to prevent plastic getting into the world's oceans, cracking down on plastic straw usage in rich countries is not the way to go.

A 2015 study in the journal Science estimates that anywhere from 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic got into the ocean in 2010. According that report, the determining factors in how much each country contributes to plastic marine waste are population size and the quality of waste management systems.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that poor countries with large coastal populations and bad waste collection systems are the biggest contributors of plastic into the oceans. China topped the list, contributing almost 28 percent of plastic inputs into the ocean in 2010. The United States was a distant 20th, contributing less than 1 percent of marine plastic waste. Looking at the dataset for the Science study, the U.K. ranks 49th, contributing somewhere from 9,456 to 26,344 tons of plastic to the ocean in 2010, or about a tenth of 1 percent of the total.

The best way to cut back on all that plastic waste, is to build up litter management systems, particularly in poor countries. It's certainly a better use of public resources than hassling people for using straws.

Photo Credit: Salpics32/Dreamstime.com

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  • TheZeitgeist||

    How's the whole sovereignty-violating nerve gas attempted-murder thing sorting out?

    ...look, straws!

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Are you trying to imply that someone is grasping at straws?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    This law is gonna be the straw that broke the camel's back. It's because there are so many Muslims in the UK, they will be hired to get all the plastic straws out of the country, and they will use their camels, and there will be so many straws to carry out, it will literally break many a camel's back.

  • Rhywun||

    What is it with control freaks and straws lately?! Though to be fair, they're probably all reading from the same playbook.

  • Brandybuck||

    This is why England needs a real constitution rather than just a sort of vague consensus constitution. Get it written down. Won't stop the asshole politicians, but at least there's a piece of paper they can wipe their asses with.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I went to a place on Saturday and my fruity girl drink had a damned paper straw. What kind of bullshit is that?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Did you get lucky with the fruity girl later?

  • Zeb||

    Paper straws cost more. Therefore they are classier.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Well it's money poorly spent. But everything at that fucking place was overpriced.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Even the hookers?

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    That had to be the last straw.

  • lafe.long||

    The Marine Conservation Society is quick to point out that disposable cutlery, trays, and straws are among the top 10 most commonly found categories of items during the group's yearly coastal clean-up. Indeed, they are the tenth most commonly found item category, making up about 2 percent of all beach refuse collected.

    Well, if they're on the beach then they are NOT in the ocean, right?

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Europe is doomed. I mean Jesus, I was just reading about a surge in Jews being beaten in the streets of Germany by radical Muslims, and these people are trying to blow hard on straws...

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    "Europe is doomed. I mean Jesus, I was just reading about a surge in Jews" - Half-Virtue, Half-Vice

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    LOL -- this either ruins or starts my political career.

  • Rhywun||

    +1 Samantha Bee "bit"

  • Elias Fakaname||

    It would be so awesome if Samantha Bee were gang rape by Islamic refugees and then doused in acid. I would be very entertained to hear her snarky comments after that.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The straw ban isn't the only anti-plastic measure that May wants to take.

    I first read that as "straw man" and it didn't change the thrust of the article at all.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    If they ban plastics then BEShine will have to officially emigrate from Europe.

  • Rhywun||

    Credible estimates on this side of the pond suggest about half of the U.S. uses one straw per day.

    So every American uses one straw every two days? I find that figure just as unbelievable. I thought I was a pretty average American and I use maybe one straw a month. Granted, I rarely order soft drinks with ice at a restaurant, which is the only (legal) use case I can think of.

  • ||

    I never use a straw.

  • ||

    I'm betting a significant portion of this is supply chain losses and the usual Pareto BS. The person that drinks three fountain drinks a day is the one who always picks up a couple of extra straws just in case and, IME, few and far between are the straw dispensers that reliably dispense a single straw at a time.

  • Jerryskids||

    If you count the mini-straws otherwise known as swizzle sticks or coffee stirrers, I'm sure you can get the count on up there. I grab a cup of coffee at the gas station maybe about once a week, but you have to use 3 or 4 of those little plastic stirrers to get the sugar mixed in. And a few drinks at the bar is good for another half-dozen.

  • Zeb||

    You could count the double stirrer straws as two, perhaps.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    I sip my Bombay Sapphire and Fever Tree Tonic via a plastic straw in honor of your stupid Limeys.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    *Mumbai Sapphire

    Racist.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I didn't click the link but wasn't that a unscientific survey done by a kid?

  • Rhywun||

    IIRC it's the "more accurate" estimate in response to the ridiculous number that kid put out.

  • Rhywun||

    IIRC it's the "more accurate" estimate in response to the ridiculous number that kid put out.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    No, the kid's estimate was 500 million straws/day which would be around 1.5 straws/person/day for the US.

    The linked estimate is from Technomics a market analysis company that specializes in the food service industry.

    Technomics got it's estimate of 172 million straws/day for the US from "surveying over 1,000 restaurant operators, looking at data from distributors such as Gordon Food Service and US Foods, and examining numbers from packaging companies (several of whom are Techonomics clients)."

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    No, the kid's estimate was 500 million straws/day which would be around 1.5 straws/person/day for the US.

    The linked estimate is from Technomics a market analysis company that specializes in the food service industry.

    Technomics got it's estimate of 172 million straws/day for the US from "surveying over 1,000 restaurant operators, looking at data from distributors such as Gordon Food Service and US Foods, and examining numbers from packaging companies (several of whom are Techonomics clients)."

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Most days of the year I use 0 straws. When this came out I was on vacation in Vegas, and used about 20 straws per day. Every meal, every drink, every refill, fresh straw, the wait staff was automatic.

    It's mostly a non issue, but would be nice make people ask rather than handing them out will he nill he.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Or half of Americans use a straw every day. Or 10% use 5.

    Consider Texas. Every time I go out for Mexican food (3 times a day) I get a straw with the water I don't drink and another straw in each margarita. That works out to about 12 a day.

    Meanwhile in NYC they use those unboxed cases of coke for step stools so everyone uses straws when drinking from cans. Because ewwww.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    If you eat Mexican food for every meal, you are a hero of mine. Even if it's TexMex.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    No asshole can take that kind of punishment.

  • Rhywun||

    I'm not sure if the 9 margaritas a day helps or harms this situation.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""Meanwhile in NYC they use those unboxed cases of coke for step stools so everyone uses straws when drinking from cans. Because ewwww."'

    That and rat droppings

  • Eidde||

    "He even supported Brexit on the grounds that it would make a prohibition of plastic straws easier to achieve."

    In the old days this would have been described as "monomania."

    Nowadays we use the more correct clinical term, "batshit crazy."

  • ||

    The best way to cut back on all that plastic waste, is to build up litter management systems, particularly in poor countries. It's certainly a better use of public resources than hassling people for using straws.

    The best way to cut back on all that plastic waste is to build up core civilization systems in poor countries. Otherwise, you build up litter management systems and it all goes to hell and leaves you looking like an idiot when you have an earthquake followed by a tsunami or discover you have thousands of Rohingya to massacre.

  • BYODB||

    Yeah, I don't really understand American's anymore. I hear people saying the world dying, and they suggest what we can do as Americans when it's obvious and clear that it's all those 'noble savages' all over the world that are fucking things up.

    They advocate for us to send billions of dollars oversea's as if we can really account for where that cash goes. As you say, even if they do exactly what they say they're going to do with it, you usually end up with a desalination plant in the middle of the desert or something like it.

    Microloans have done more to combat this nonsense than anything else that readily springs to mind, and they're voluntary. Go figure.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "you usually end up with a desalination plant in the middle of the desert"'

    What's wrong with that? Isn't the middle of the desert where thy need the water the most?

    /sarc :)

  • BYODB||

    I see you've worked in government, lol

  • ||

    Thank you. All this plastic in the ocean is coming from poor Asian countries. Those who care about sea life are wringing their hands and punishing anyone they can regardless of fault.

  • ||

    "Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world,"

    FFS.

    I think it's actually the nanny state. At some point, the full weight of its own stupidity will come crashing down.

  • Libertarian||

    As mad.casual obliquely says above, poverty is the root cause of most environmental problems.

  • ||

    And the solutions is to make upper classes feel better about themselves convinced they're doing something about it.

    All they're doing is eroding personal responsibility and ownership.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    More like the ninny state.

  • ||

    Is this an example of....

    /dons sunglasses

    straw man logic?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Those sunglasses better have paper frames.

  • NoVaNick||

    The girl with the blue top looks way too hot to be a Brit-though I can't tell if maybe she is missing a tooth, which would make it a legit photo.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Cover up the tits and the hotness factor drops.

  • Freddy the Jerk||

    I'm guessing you only noticed one particular feature on blue-top girl. Being older and thus more discerning, I was able to also notice her BIG FREAKING FOREHEAD.

    Definitely could be a Brit.

  • Zeb||

    I think I read somewhere that British women have, on average, the biggest breasts of any nationality. DO with that information what you will.

  • ||

    Does that stat include boob jobs?

  • NoVaNick||

    Think the NHS pays for boob jobs, so that would definitely skew the result.

  • Zeb||

    No idea.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I think it is because the Brits consume more IPA beer than anywhere else. IPA beer is very hoppy, and hops contains many phytoestrogens, which increase boob size in both sexes.

  • BYODB||

    Or, shorter CMB, Zeb has great tits.

  • Zeb||

    You have clearly never seen me. I'm skinny as fuck.

  • silver.||

    They're not mutually exclusive.

    :)

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I find that pale blue distracting. Get rid of it!

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    As in take it off? Hear hear!

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    No, here here!

  • Zeb||

    Plastic in the ocean sounds terrible. And is certainly aesthetically undesirable. The "microplastics" that apparently get into everything seem particularly troubling. However, I have yet to hear anyone mention any specific problems that the microplastic particles cause, either to sea life or things that eat sea creatures. But I guess we should just go ahead and panic anyway.

  • NoVaNick||

    The earth created humans because it wanted plastic
    -George Carlin

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    But now it has plastic and it doesn't need us any more. Be afraid, be very afraid.

  • ||

    /Rolls in large window for Zeb to jump through.

  • ||

    However, I have yet to hear anyone mention any specific problems that the microplastic particles cause, either to sea life or things that eat sea creatures.

    Does it have to be with sea life? Generally water filtration proceeds through a settling process, a filtration process, and a binding process. Plastic microparticles, especially the shampoo beads that are popularly banned, are neutral density with water so they don't sink, clog filters, and resist binding agents. Still doesn't really get to your "How much microplastic would I or the ecosystem have to consume to die?" question, but still a pretty specific problem that has some pretty imaginable cost/effect tradeoff.

  • ||

    water filtration

    Er... purification. Filtration is just one step.

    More plastic makes it harder to filter out pathogens.

  • Zeb||

    I recently heard some discussion on the issue which mostly concerned oceans and the "garbage patch" things in the gyres.

    Your example seems like a good one. My gut tells me that lots of tiny bits of plastic in everything isn't good. But the people I've heard talking about it don't seem to know why.

  • BYODB||


    My gut tells me that lots of tiny bits of plastic in everything isn't good. But the people I've heard talking about it don't seem to know why.

    How many parts per million are these 'microparticles' one might ask, and what is the toxicity level, but I don't think an answer will be forthcoming.

    As far as certain byproducts the harms are known, but it seems tremendously unlikely that with the volume of water on Earth that you would be able to reach toxic quantities even by eating fish that have functionally concentrated those particles. Especially when they are equally toxic to just about everything. (I.E. Don't eat already dead fish.)

    It's certainly possible, but it occurs to me that this is literally the FDA's job to filter this type of thing out of the food supply. We can't force, say, China or India to stop pouring shit into the ocean so getting all upset about it or cutting off our own balls to spite them over it isn't a smart move. We already pay China a fortune simply not to use certain processes or materials, which they of course continue to make and use regardless.

  • colorblindkid||

    While I am sure there is some negative affects, there isn't much hard evidence. Headlines like "Whale found with a ton of plastic in stomach" normally say that the whales died of old age or something other than the plastic.

    There was a major study making the rounds of all of the people who FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE a few years ago about the negative effects of microplastic on baby fish, but the researchers in Sweden turned out to have basically made up all of their data. It is still in the process of being retracted.

    If an environmental scientist or a marine biologist did a study that showed consuming plastic had no effect on wildlife, do you think they would release that? Do you think they would go public with that? Of course not. Ideology blinds us to reality more than the desire for profit does.

  • Eidde||

    Suggested alt-text: "Wait, were there straws in that picture?"

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    That's a picture of Britches and his two strictly platonic lady friends.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    He bought them the drinks. He also holds the drinks for them, so they don't have to.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Sparky gets it.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    Britches' Brit-Beards?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    I see a lot of hot,chicks out with their gay male friends. Waiting for me to ask them out. Some are even such good friends that they wear matching rings on their left hands.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Agreed; I had to go back three times before I noticed the straws and realized the relevance, to the article.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Britches knows his audience.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    Fuck Britches, he killed the Linques.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Suggested alt-text should be a regular feature of every comments section.

  • I can't even||

    "The 3 prettiest girls in the UK"

  • Elias Fakaname||

    UK has plenty of smoking hot chicks. Check out Katherine Jenkins, or Gemma Atkinson.

  • Jerryskids||

    You aren't fooling anybody with that picture, you know. The flag and the pasty white skin may suggest Brit, but those certainly aren't British teeth in those grins. Be honest, those are Canadians posing as Brits, aren't they? Rufus and a couple of his Canadian girlfriends, maybe? Wait, do Canadians say they have Canadian girlfriends or do they say they have "a girlfriend in the States, you wouldn't know her"?

  • Zeb||

    The 1980s want their jokes back.

  • Eidde||

    That Canadian joke is the only joke from the 80s which it's still legal to tell.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    "So what is it with Airline Food ..."

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    I suspect that if they are truly Brits, they are the two breast looking women in the Kingdom.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I've seen better here . I'd still give them both about an 8... a hard 8! You know what I'm talkin' about!

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Ur n' 8, mate?

  • Sevo||

    "You aren't fooling anybody with that picture, you know. The flag and the pasty white skin may suggest Brit, but those certainly aren't British teeth in those grins."

    Absolutely right!
    They banned plastic toothbrushes in '55, I think, and the whale-bone alternatives never really caught on.

  • ||

    You aren't fooling anybody with that picture, you know. The flag and the pasty white skin may suggest Brit, but those certainly aren't British teeth in those grins.

    I've seen this trick before, the one the right is Keegan-Michael Key and the one on the left is Jordan Peele.

  • Zeb||

    Someone needs to start trying to sell the idea of plastics as carbon sinks to environmentalists. The fact that it takes thousands of years to break down is a marvelous feature of plastic. Put it in a good landfill and all that petroleum that went into it is safely back in the ground again. If people would just stop throwing shit on the ground it would be great.

  • ||

    Someone needs to start trying to sell the idea of plastics as carbon sinks to environmentalists.

    I'd say start with the fact that solid waste incineration for energy is a thing and that plastic is a desirable fuel. It's a bogeyman and they seem to respond to that. It also incentivizes the active hoarding and storage as opposed to just pointing out that the material is intrinsically carbon storing which could, arguably, encourage frivolous disposal.

  • Tony||

    But then how will children drink from grownup glasses? (Straws are for children.)

  • ||

    The only time I use a straw is when consuming from a disposable container while driving; to which plastic pop-top lids seems like a six v. half dozen solution.

  • Tony||

    Fair enough. They usually don't make cupholders suitable for proper glassware anyway.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    For awhile I used to drink only from a 128oz MEGA GULP cup from 7/11 and that thing did not fit anywhere.

  • Tony||

    An inconvenient convenience store cup. Practically an O. Henry story.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Tony is right.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    Sippy cups. For all

  • Elias Fakaname||

    "But then how will children drink from grownup glasses? (Straws are for children"

    Amd men are supposed to fuck women, not other men. So I wouldn't pull too hard on that thread.

  • Rebel Scum||

    Firstly: Would, wouldn't, would.

    Secondly:

    the current Conservative government has announced plans to ban plastic straws and stirrers.

    You can have my straw...from my damp, caffeinated hand!

    What's "conservative" about banning straws? I take it "conservative" means something different in England.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    "What's "conservative" about banning straws? I take it "conservative" means something different in England."

    Always has ... it used to mean "Gay".

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Conservative in England means Hillary Clinton. Seriously.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Sadly, yes. Their people really need t overthrow them and start over.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    British people will gladly destroy their own freedoms if it means they can spitefully, callously guarantee that they can destroy the freedoms of their perceived enemies. The politics of resentment is absolute in th e UK. There are no options for liberty. There is no appetite for liberty.

    I open my juice box with a 6" hunting knife and jam 6 straws in so I can more quickly accumulate used straws to melt down and form into a gun.

  • Sevo||

    Plastic straws. Really.
    It's almost like the nannies are stretching to find the least value for the most effort.
    Plastic
    Fucking
    Straws.

  • Brandybuck||

    When straws are banned only criminals will have straws.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    First they came for the straws...

  • Tony||

    It's a lobbyist conspiracy of Big Those Little Spoon Thingies for Taking Bumps of Coke From.

  • Echospinner||

    Ban plastic straws and grocery bags and switch to paper.

    Why do environmentalists hate trees?

    Then there is the known extra energy cost to manufacture paper goods resulting in more CO2 floating around. Has Al Gore been briefed on this?

  • Tony||

    This is why the current recommendation is for reusable bags. If you don't mind looking like a hippie.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    ... and spreading salmonella to your loved ones.

  • silver.||

    Grocery stores should get together and decide to charge for bags like Aldi does. I'd sooner buy another reusable bag or even repurpose a discarded shipping box than pay a damn nickle.

    Same with straws at restaurants. Everyone will stop using straws. Shit, some places could make a gimmick out of having straws integrated into the glass so you don't have to buy one. IDK.

    Same with oil. Check Craigslist next time gas hits $4.00. 1990 Honda Civics with 400k miles sell for five grand. People start throwing down at dealerships to reduce their carbon footprint. They'll spend $80k on a new hybrid to save $30/month on gas.

    No government needed. Just hit people in the wallet.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    When that shit happens, it's a great time to buy a performance car, big SUV, or big truck. The savings will be easily ten times what you will pay extra for gas.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I answered the 5c per bag problem by stopping all charitable donations at the store counter. $1 of foregone donation pays for 20 bags.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    I refuse to do anything to encourage charity shaming. If I am ever asked aloud if I'm giving money today by a clerk, I loudly say "no!".

  • Rhywun||

    In Germany in the 80s, the eco-nuts were pushing plastic bags as the Earth-friendly alternative to paper.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Yarp, no one remembers this.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    It's the history of now.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Yes, not long after the Baader-Meinhof Gang toured with Kraftwerk on the back of their seminal 1977 work Deutscher Herbst, which redefined the artistic parameters of freeform prog-terrorism.

  • Robert||

    nanny-state bender


    Heh.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Expect more bans of basic, everyday materials as the crisis in recycling hits new highs. Recycling was always about 90% bullshit and politicians everywhere are realizing that none of the shit that disappeared from your magical blue bin was actually getting recycled. The only answer is to stop using the materials we previously thought were being recycled.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Better we just have compulsory organ harvesting of progressives. Not sure how that figures in, but it sure sounds good.

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